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Mattapan salon stands test of time

Martin Desmarais
Mattapan salon stands test of time
From left, Sandra Guerrier-Clark, Josette Guerrier and Patti Powell of Paradise Hair Saloon in Mattapan Square. (Photo: Martin Desmarais)

Josette Guerrier’s Paradise Hair Salon has been a stalwart in Mattapan Square for over 25 years. For most of that time, Guerrier was the force that kept the business going, but in the last several years her daughter Sandra Guerrier-Clark has taken the reins. That, combined with a recent move to a larger location, is helping to ensure that the salon continues to be a local staple for many more years to come.

Author: Martin DesmaraisSandra Guerrier-Clark (standing) has taken over running Paradise Hair Salon in Mattapan Square from her mother Josette Guerrier (sitting), who opened the salon in 1989.

The story of Paradise starts in Haiti, where Josette Guerrier was born, ventures through New York in 1970, where the new immigrant worked as a nurse’s aide, shifts to Boston in the 1974, where she followed work opportunity, and really takes off in the 1980s, when she changed careers by enrolling in cosmetology school.

At the time the move was one of opportunity, but it ignited a passion for both hair and her clientele that has driven Guerrier for decades.

Guerrier opened Paradise in Mattapan Square in 1989. Though she had been working as a registered hairdresser for a number of years, she wanted to start her own business and work for herself. And she had also learned a valuable lesson about the business that still serves Paradise to this day — beauty salon success is largely tied to having a large base of loyal clientele.

While working for others, she had built up strong customer loyalty and she knew they would follow her to her own place.

“I had a lot of customers at that time and business was booming,” she said.

Increased competition

When it opened in 1989, Paradise was one of only two hair salons in Mattapan Square. Now there are several on each side of Blue Hill Avenue. But despite the competition, Guerrier and her salon have remained.

You can’t be into your third decade of styling hair without hitting a high level of skill, but Guerrier mostly credits her many loyal customers for the success.

Keeping her customers happy is a skill she passed on to her daughter and, six years ago, when Guerrier retired she left the business in good hands.

Of course, her love for the business keeps Guerrier coming around and you can find her in the back of the store and still serving some clients a few days a week, but Sandra Guerrier-Clark is now fully the women in charge.

The elder Guerrier is thrilled about that.

“I am very happy for her to take over. Thanks to her the name Paradise is still there,” Guerrier said. “She is also very good at running the business.”

Guerrier-Clark has taken the business forward in her time at the helm, notably making a move to a bigger location with a street-level store front that has increased the salon’s walk-in traffic.

Until July 2014, Paradise was in the same second story location on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan Square it had occupied since 1989. This salon had three booths for serving customers, but at the most only had two workers.

The new location has four booths and though there are currently two fulltime workers — Guerrier-Clark and hairdresser Patti Powell — the plan is to have four fulltime workers filling all the booths by next summer.

Paradise provides traditional hairdressing services, such as cutting, weaving and coloring, but the business also has a strong reputation for healthy hair care and helping women rejuvenate thinning hair.

The salon only serves women, and while others have expanded services to become unisex or offer nail care, Guerrier-Clark has no plans to do so. She likes that the salon is still doing what her mother started all those years ago and thinks most of its customers do too.

Patti Powell, who is the other current fulltime hairdresser at Paradise and has been working there for about a year-and-a-half, says she loves the welcoming and family atmosphere at the salon. She calls working there peaceful and says the customers love this vibe as well.

Author: Martin DesmaraisSandra Guerrier-Clark works with a customer at Paradise Hair Salon in Mattapan Square.

Powell worked for 30 years at Alister’s Hairstyling in Mattapan before joining the staff at Paradise. She shares the passion for hair care that Guerrier-Clark and her mother have.

“I love people and I love making them feel happy,” Powell said. “If you can make them feel confident about themselves. You make them feel beautiful.”

A calling

Guerrier-Clark wasn’t always sure that she would take over her mom’s business. She originally started college in the early 1990s hoping to find a career field she could focus on but with her mom running the salon all that time and her helping out and being around the business she eventually thought it was the best professional direction to go in and went to beauty school to prepare herself. By 1995, she was working fulltime with her mom.

Guerrier-Clark professes a love for Mattapan Square and a loyalty to being part of the small business force that keeps it going. Through the ups and downs she says that businesses like Paradise have to stay and keep boosting the local economy as best as they can.

She also feels a responsibility to keep the business her mom built from scratch going as long as she can. The youngest of three siblings, Guerrier-Clark said she eventually realized she was the only one who was going to enter the family business and would be the last shot at an heir to her mother’s hairdressing chair.

“I want to make sure all my mom’s sweat and tears are not in vain,” she said.

Guerrier-Clark is married to Boston Police Officer James Clark and the couple have two daughters and a son. Perhaps one of them will keep Paradise going just as she did for her mother. Though for now, she is just focused on keeping her customers satisfied and keeping them coming back.

That focus seems to be the one thing more than anything she has absorbed from working at her mom’s side

“If you have good clientele and you keep them happy they are going to come to you no matter what,” she said. “When you give your 100 percent they will come back. That is what I believe.”